Limpopo was formerly known as the Northern Province and many still refer to the province as the Great North. Many of the town names have also been changed in recent years. The Limpopo is an area of many contrasts where one can easily travel through five different landscapes within a distance of 300 km, creating the illusion that one is visiting many different countries at once. This rich mosaic can be experienced on virtually every level imaginable. Tourists come from all over the world to marvel at the diversity of its wildlife, its scenery and its cultural and historical landmarks.
The province is a well-balanced combination of undisturbed nature, agriculture and towns, mainly based on mining. The Bushveld Igneous Complex (a geological area of remarkable mineral wealth) meets up with subtropical forests in the eastern part of the province. It is in this area that most of the mining towns are situated. Gold was discovered at Haenertsburg in 1886. Leydsdorp is a former gold-rush town. Copper and other minerals are mined at Phalaborwa. Tin deposits were found near Mookgophong (Naboomspruit) in 1920 and Musina (Messina) is a major source of iron ore, coal, asbestos and diamonds. It is because of this mineral wealth that the province just keeps on growing. The forests in this area are complemented by citrus plantations and in the north by tropical parkland.
The most northerly parts of the province are hot and dry, the sun scorching mercilessly a landscape dotted with lone mopani and baobab trees. Some of these baobab trees have survived here for thousands of years.
For lovers of nature and the great outdoors, the Limpopo is the place to be. The rivers of the province afford plenty of opportunities for adventure. The many clear streams in lovely natural surroundings are an invitation to all fishermen. The Limpopo River offers ample angling opportunities but anglers should be careful of the crocodiles and hippos that are occasionally spotted in the river or on its banks. The Letaba River has many trout pools set against the backdrop of subtropical forests and tea and fruit plantations. For those who would like to explore the rivers in a more energetic fashion, canoeing is the ideal way. The Blyde and Olifants Rivers provide ideal conditions for canoeing and rafting.
Activities such as bird-watching, horse-riding, mountain-biking and 4×4 trails are also offered throughout the province, especially in the Waterberg area of the Bushveld. All of these activities can be enjoyed in the happy knowledge that there is always a chance of also spotting some wild animals or a rare plant. There are numerous caravan parks and camping sites in the province for those who prefer to be close to nature.
Swimming takes on a new dimension in Limpopo, offering true unity with nature as many of the pools are set in beautiful natural surroundings. The town of Bela Bela (Warmbaths) is famous for its hot springs and there are many tourist resorts in and around the area. The holiday resort at Tshipise offers similar forms of relaxation. Known as the game province of South Africa, Limpopo has top-class restaurants where the adventurous diner will be able to enjoy a rich variety of game dishes. Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are also available in abundance from shops and street stalls.
Approximately 60 per cent of all the hunting in the country takes place in Limpopo. Provincial and private hunting farms and lodges offer excellent hunting facilities. The provincial hunting farms allow hunters to tender for a set quota of animals. Hunting on these farms is organised in a manner that encourages equilibrium within the animal population of the country.
The province takes good care of its animals and indigenous vegetation and there are several provincial, local and private parks and reserves.
The Limpopo also caters for shoppers of all tastes. All the major towns have excellent shopping facilities in the form of shopping malls. Art, crafts and curio centres offer brilliant selections of semi-precious stones, woodcarvings, jewellery, distinctively designed ornaments and hand-painted materials.
The discerning shopper who wishes to take a little bit of Africa home would do well to support local entrepreneurs. Handmade curios are very fitting souvenirs of South Africa and its people. These curios are on sale at roadside stalls and markets where groups of people display their arts and crafts in a fascinating selection of colour and creativity. Real bargains can be picked up from these stalls and include treasures such as woodcarvings, statues made from colourful stone and pottery. Please bear in mind that their art is often these people’s only means of support, so keep the haggling to a minimum.
Entertainment in the form of movies, dining and dancing can be enjoyed in all the larger towns of the province. But the main attraction is the true nightlife that can be experienced only while sitting around a campfire, listening to the songs of nature. Most of the parks and reserves offer excellent overnight accommodation as well as night drives into the African bush, a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
Although this province lies at the northern tip of South Africa, it is easily accessible from all the major centres in the country. Limpopo borders the provinces of Mpumalanga, North West and Gauteng. Luxury bus services run daily between Polokwane (Pietersburg) (the capital of Limpopo) and Johannesburg (in Gauteng). A major advantage is the closeness of Gauteng’s airports, i.e. Johannesburg International Airport, Grand Central Airport, Lanseria Airport and Rand Airport. Polokwane’s Gateway Airport caters for regular flights to and from the rest of the country and East Gate Airport at Hoedspruit is also conveniently located. In addition, the rail network is well developed.
Limpopo is often referred to as the ‘Gateway to sub-Saharan Africa’ because it gives access to the neighbouring countries of Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Polokwane (Pietersburg) is approximately 600 km from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and about 800 km from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. The proximity to these countries is convenient for the tourist who would like to explore not only South Africa, but other southern African countries as well.
In addition to the superb wildlife of the province, the climate is an added attraction. The province boasts a lovely sunny climate with hot summer days and dry pleasant winters. Limpopo has almost year-round sunshine. Summers can get extremely hot and temperatures can rise above 30 degrees Celsius.
People have lived in this lovely and abundant place for a long time. The first people to inhabit the area were the San (Bushmen). These Stone Age nomads left their mark on the land in the form of rock paintings that are of great archaeological importance. The Khoikhoi were the next group to inhabit the area. They were stock farmers, constantly on the move in search of better pastures. Archaeological evidence also suggests that black tribes inhabited the Limpopo during both the Stone and Iron Ages. All these groups contribute to the cultural diversity of the Limpopo. The Pedi belong to the Sotho nation and have made the eastern section of the province their home. Another large African group is the Venda, descendants of the Zimbabwean Karanga, who came to the area during the sixteenth century. The Venda speak a language that differs substantially from any of the other African languages spoken in South Africa.
European influence came in the form of the Voortrekker settlers who left the Cape during the first half of the nineteenth century in search of a better life. Missionaries and teachers followed in their footsteps and more Europeans arrived towards the end of the nineteenth century when mining opportunities opened up in the province. Many “Voortrekker” (pioneer) graves, memorials and wagon tracks are found throughout Limpopo, reminders of the early European settlers in the area. Museums containing memorabilia of the Voortrekker era are to be found in towns such as Polokwane (Pietersburg), Tzaneen, Makhado (Louis Trichardt), Musina (Messina), Modimolle (Nylstroom) and Mokopane (Potgietersrus).